Research

Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Animal Circadian Rhythm

Research in my laboratory focuses on animal circadian clock and its control over organismal physiology. Besides being indispensable for the control of daily activities, such as the sleep-wake cycle, locomotor activity, hormone circulation and food intake, defects in circadian rhythms and clock genes have also been implicated in a wide range of human disorders, including chronic sleep orders, various forms of depression, metabolic syndromes, as well as susceptibility to cancer and drug and alcohol addiction. Using a combination of biochemical, molecular genetics, and proteomic approaches, our goal is to dissect the molecular network and cellular mechanisms that control the circadian oscillator in animals, and investigate how this molecular oscillator interact with the environment and cellular metabolism to drive rhythms of physiology and behavior.

Regulation of Seasonal Biology

Organisms possess photoperiodic timing mechanisms to anticipate variations in day length and temperature as the seasons progress. The nature of the molecular mechanisms interpreting and signaling these environmental changes to elicit downstream neuroendocrine and physiological responses are just starting to emerge. We are using multiple insect species to study the molecular and neuronal basis of the photoperiodic timer and investigate the link between the circadian clock and the seasonal timer.

Enhancing global food security using genomics and biotechnology

The overall goal of this project is to apply modern biotechnology and genomic approaches to accelerate agricultural research and to develop new strategies to control invasive insect pests. Our current focus is on (1) Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD; Drosophila suzukii) and (2) South American tomato pinworm (Tuta absoluta). SWD has become a major threat to specialty crop production since its detection in CA in 2008, and is causing significant crop losses in the millions of dollars. Tuta absoluta is one of the most devastating pests of fresh market and processing tomatoes. Native to South America, its detection was confined to that continent until 2006 when it was identified in Spain. It has now spread to almost every continent, threatening countries whose economies rely heavily on tomatoes. Although T. absoluta has yet to be found in CA and other parts of the U.S., computer models project a high likelihood of invasion. We have published draft genomes of both species and are currently leveraging new genomic resources to understand insecticide resistance mechanisms, monitor resistance development, study population dispersal, investigate seasonal phenology, and develop more accurate species diagnostics for quarantine efforts

Our research is currently funded by:

National Science Foundation

National Institute of Health

United States Department of Agriculture

Clarence & Estelle Albaugh Endowment

The California Cherry Board

California Department of Food and Agriculture